By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
On Monday 11th September 2023 the National Assembly member for Central Baddibou, Hon Sulayman Saho raised up a matter of the day focused on repealing the ban on Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting. According to Hon Saho’s statement, The Gambia’s 1997 Constitution provides for freedom to practice culture and religion. Hon Saho quoted Chapter 17 Subsections 2 and 32 of the 1997 Constitution and called for “dialogue on this matter rather than arresting our mother and sisters to be arraigned before the court”.
According to Hon Saho, “this is creating discord among those who practised it as culture and religion. To my opinion it should be a matter of choice rather than banning the act because of funding being received from the West”. He added that “banning the act infringes others’ rights and serves as a recipe for violence in our country. This country has a record of stability, and we all need to put hands on deck to re-visit the act that criminalized female circumcision”.
The whole thing started when three women were found guilty of practising Female Genital Mutilation in August 2023. The three women all pleaded guilty and were fined D15,000 each failing to pay will have to serve 1 year in imprisonment. According to the Ruling Statement, the first accused is over 80 years old, the second accused is a breast-feeding mother and the third accused is visibly pregnant.
However, well-known Religious Scholar Imam Fatty decided to pay the fines of the women which brought him at loggerheads with anti-FGM Activists. Currently, the Women’s Amendment Act 2015, commonly known as the FGM Ban penalises individuals found guilty by the courts with a fine of D50,000 and or three years jail time.
NHRC Perturbed by Parliament’s Attempt to Repeal FGM Ban
The following day 12th September 2023 The Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a statement highlighting that they are “gravely perturbed and concerned regarding attempts by some members of the National Assembly advocating for the repeal of the” FGM Ban. According to the NHRC, the FGM/C ban is a fulfilment of The Gambia’s international obligations to “the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and the UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)”.
The NHRC presser highlights that institutions such as “The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other reputable international, regional, and national organizations and institutions have researched and documented the severe effects of FGM/C on the well-being, health and lives of women and girls. It is an indisputable fact that FGM/C is a grave violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls, including their physical integrity and rights to life, health, and protection against torture or other cruel and inhumane treatment”.
Being the main institution tasked to promote human rights in the country the NHRC notes that “the victims of FGM/C are mostly children who by law cannot give consent to undergo the practice as being alluded to by the advocates of the practice. FGM/C can neither be normalized nor used as a justification to invoke cultural or religious customs to the detriment of the well-being of girls and women”.
Finally, they call Parliament’s attention that “any attempt to repeal the anti-FGM laws would not only put the lives of children at risk but also amount to a derogation of The Gambia’s obligations under national and international human rights laws and its commitments to protect the rights of its children and women”.
However, in a turn of events The Gambia’s Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) has published a statement encouraging Parliamentarians to repeal the Anti-FGM Ban and for female circumcisers to be trained “to practice Sunni circumcision”. The statement from the SIC encourages “Parliamentarians to consult scholars on issues affecting religion” and warns people not to “take precedence over scholars and speak about religion in halal and haram without knowledge”.
Published a day after the NHRC’s statement, the SIC “confirms that female circumcision is a percept of Islam as the jurisprudents of the schools of law in Islam (Mathaheb) have agreed that circumcision for men and women is a legitimate practice in Islam. However, there is disagreement among scholars as to whether it is obligatory”.